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Politics: Proposal would add 2 at-large County Council seats

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Ron Charlton says he will propose adding two at-large seats to the seven-member Georgetown County Council.

Charlton, who is running for a sixth term as representative of District 2, a narrow band running from Maryville to the South Causeway in Pawleys Island, told members of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club that he and club president Jerry Rovner had been discussing the idea.

The Georgetown County Board of Education operates with two at-large members and seven others representing districts. That arrangement was made in 2008 when the U.S. Department of Justice threatened to bring suit against the board’s at-large seats saying it diminished minority representation. The school board adopted seven single-member districts that mirror the County Council districts and made the other seats at-large. To meet the Justice Department’s concerns, the school board became nonpartisan.

After the GOP club meeting Rovner said Waccamaw Neck residents pay a majority of county property taxes and would appreciate an opportunity to have more representation on council.

County attorney Wesley Bryant said there are two means of changing the council: a referendum approved by council members and sent to the voters in November or council’s calling for a referendum after being presented a petition signed by 10 percent of the county’s registered voters.

John DeLoache, staff attorney for the South Carolina Association of Counties, said counties decided their form of government 40 years ago when the S.C. General Assembly passed Home Rule. “Once they selected the type of government — council-administrator, council-manager — the Home Rule Act allowed the county governing body to put forward a referendum to change it.”

DeLoache said he knew of only two counties in the state not electing council members from single-member districts and they chose to keep their systems in 1976. “They may have an issue with being able to elect at-large representatives,” he said. “The language indicates county council members must be elected from single-member districts unless already elected prior to the Home Rule Act. The case may need an opinion from the attorney general.”

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